Tag Archives: Israel

23,169

A very specific number. Not rounded off like 6,000,000. Very exact. Changing. Doesn’t stay the same for very long. Never goes down. It’s the price of our independence, our survival. Some might say the price is pretty cheap. I guess it all depends on the currency in which you are forced to pay.

We don’t call our soldiers jarheads or grunts or any other dehumanizing name. How could we? Our soldiers are our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, our fathers and mothers. If not ours, then someone else’s. It could have been ours. It might be ours next time around. This is the currency which we use to pay for our independence and survival. This is our glass jaw.

In this neck of the woods, it’s a mistake to show your weakness, your fear, your grief. I know that. Act as though you don’t give a damn. Act as if you’re ready to die. Act as though you’re already dead. Still, I wonder sometimes whether our enemies have sons and daughters whom they love, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Do they grieve deaths like we do when we are alone and silent?

One thing we do that no other nation in the world does is put our Independence Day right after our Remembrance Day for the Fallen in War and Victims of Terror. I never quite understood how we expect our people to switch from insane sadness to insane happiness at the announcement “this marks the end of our ceremony and the beginning of our festivities.” I guess it is to teach us the price of our independence and survival.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose

6 Million Memories

“6 Million Memories” was the headline on today’s paper. Today was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. It started last night at 8 p.m. and ended tonight same time, as do most Jewish religious occurrences. The newspapers are filled with pictures and stories of the survivors and those who honor them. The radio stations and television channels trade their 24-hour news cycles and programming to story after story after story, each one sadder and more heart-rending than the one that preceded it. How can one listen to more than three or four or five stories? Yet how can you change the station or channel or turn it off?

6 million memories: they can’t be the memories of the dead. Their memories are dead with them. Besides, each of the dead had many more memories than just the last one before he or she died. There were also the memories of the infinite cruelty of the guards, the soldiers, the police, the officials, the neighbors, and those who turned a cold shoulder. That would be 6 billion memories at least. No, 6 million memories are the memories of the survivors, living people who remember their murdered parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and children, people who knew someone who shared a crust of bread or a blanket or a smile, someone who knew a name or a number. These memories are also dying because the numbers of survivors is dwindling, but also because the people who didn’t know someone are running out of interest or compassion.

Some professor was being interviewed on the radio last night while I was driving home from work. He spoke Hebrew in a high shaky voice in a heavy European accent, slowly, haltingly. I don’t remember his name. He told of a rabbi who had said there were non-Jewish people who envied us our holocaust. They wanted to take it from us. The rabbi said, “You know what? They are right … I’d much rather be killed than be a killer.” Maybe that explains why so many Jews walked inexplicably like lambs into the gas chambers without putting up a fight.

Another thing the professor said about the impact of the holocaust on Jewish belief in God: there were those who believed in God before the holocaust but stopped believing in Him after it, there were those who did not believe in God before the holocaust and started believing in Him after it, and there were those who believed before and after the holocaust. I don’t believe God had anything at all to do with the holocaust. He couldn’t have prevented the death of a single infant from the hands of evil. There is no weaker force in nature or physics than the Will of God.

At 10 a.m. the sirens sounded for two minutes around the country. Everybody stopped what he or she was doing, stopped talking, and stood up, heads bowed, arms by their sides. The siren goes through you, resonates in you, until you become this wailing, this music.

I know I would not have survived one day of the holocaust, or maybe I would have.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose

Nisht a’hair un nisht ahin

What’s it really like to be an English-language poet in Israel? What’s it like to speak, read, and write in more than one language? I was inspired to write this post after reading an excellent article by Dara Barnat, entitled No One’s Mother Tongue: Writing in English in Israel, appearing in the English & French poetry journal “Recours au Poeme”. It is well worth your reading, but don’t be daunted by the French at the beginning of the article if you are monolingual; the original English follows immediately. For those Francophiles struggling along in English, Sabine Huynh translated Dara’s article into French. Sabine is a talented poet in both French and English, and translates six languages at last count.

To answer the first question, I suppose it’s somewhat like being a Hebrew-language poet in America; not because so few people read English in Israel or Hebrew in America, but because so few people read poetry in any country. More people would rather read a blog post on poetry or see a movie about a poet, than read an actual poem. But seriously, Dara makes a valid point that being an English-language writer in Israel makes one “different”, “not normal”, and casts one in the undesirable role of being an outsider, insiders being those who are “normal”, who eat out of the same mess kit as you, who love what you love and hate what you hate. The funny thing about that is that’s the way I felt in America too. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, except that’s the way I feel in a synagogue too.

Now would be a good time to explain the title of my post, “Nisht a’hair un nisht ahin”. It’s Yiddish for “neither here nor there”. That’s how a true outsider feels.

As for the second question, I speak, read, and write in English and Hebrew. English is my native language, my mama lushin, but I’ve lived in Israel more than half my life, so I don’t have to translate my thoughts from English to Hebrew. I think in both languages. I used to speak Spanish and German too, but unfortunately those tongues have atrophied in my mouth. So a curious monolingual might ask “what’s it like?” We see the world around us through our eyes but we filter what we see through the structures of our language. Actually there are a lot of different filters that raw reality has to pass through before it enters our minds, such as the structures of culture, of religion, and of nationality, but language precedes them. If we experience something for which we have no word or form of word, then we are not likely to remember that thing. We may not even be aware of it. Most languages possess common structures, or else we’d never be able to translate from one language to another, but every language also has its own unique structures. Hebrew speakers see the world through both common and unique language structures, for instance the concurrency of biblical time with modern time, the timelessness of the Holocaust, the synesthesia between our children and our soldiers, our love-hate relationship with religion and politics, our dependence on and mistrust of the outside world, the suspicion of abandoned baggage, to name only a few of our unique language structures. These will never be translatable into English or any other language. So what I am saying is that I see the world through both sets of language structures at the same time. The realities I see are painted from a richer palette. Richer is not necessarily happier. In my case, it’s sadder.

There is so much to love, but there is so much to lose and it can be so lonely when you’re an outsider looking in.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under about writing, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Poetry, Prose